Monday, 29 December 2014

Chanukah - Festival of Light

Opps. Somehow forgot to post this blog at the appropriate time.

Chanukah is a lovely time of the year.

It lasts 8 nights and has it's foundation firmly planted around family and being together. Every Jewish family the world over will do the same thing over Chanukah. It's an interesting concept, to be so in sync with others.

The story goes, Israel was ruled by people who prayed to many gods. At first, they let the Jewish people pray to their own god as they believed in only one god. A new king came to power, and he ordered the Jewish people to pray to his gods, and took over their temple.

Mattathias got very angry about this and gathered an army to fight the king. The leader of the army was Judah the Maccabee who became very famous in Jewish lore.

After years of fighting the Jews won, but it was bittersweet as their temple had been invaded and filled with idols they didn't recognise. There Torah (Bible) was gone. The Menorah, the 8-branched candleholder which should always be lit was gone.

They searched for both important items and eventually found the Menorah, with all but a small amount of the anointed oil remaining, enough for maybe one day. It would take the scholars at least a week to make more supplies.

They lit the oil, and the flames on the Menorah shone brightly for all to see.

It burned a second day.

Then the next and a 4th, and a 5th.

The flames burned for 8 full days, miraculously all the time needed to have a fresh supply of oil.

From that year on, Jewish people the world over light the Menorah, one candle a night, until all 8 candles are lit.

The candles are lit right to left.

The first candle to be lit is the SHAMMAS, or the servant candle to the others. The Shammas then lights each candle at dusk for eight consecutive nights.

It is customary to have the Menorah lit in the part of the home where they can be seen from outside as  a welcome sign to anyone passing.

Other traditions are to eat lots of food cooked in oil. Donuts are a family favourite, as are potato latkes and schnitzel.

While Christmas has become a very decorative festival, with the tree and all its ornaments, fake snow on windows, gel stickers, external house lights of all shapes and sizes, Christmas jumpers, Santa hats and more, Chanukah just has the Menorah.

Some families adopted a gift giving aspect to Chanukah, giving the kids a small gift on each night of Chanukah. It was a compromise and 'allowed' Jewish people to feel they could participate in a small way the Christmas spirit of gift giving/receiving.

Our family has never exchanged Chanukah gifts, and it never bothered us that I remember. I admit to feeling a wee bit guilty about being away from 'home' at this time of year, and indulge MissM with 8 Chanukah treats. Also, and it might sound silly, as we celebrate 'everything' I'm conscious of not having one festival (if that's what you call it) out-do another. There has to be balance in all things (I know, I'm pathetic)

We celebrate Christmas with our non-Jewish friends, and Chanukah with our family and Jewish friends. As I got older, 'everyone' did 'everything' something we do to this day. In fact, a cousin living in the UK wished the family on our secret group on FB 'merry christmas' and I made the remark, funny no one bothered with Chanukah wishes to which another cousin replied, Chunukah Schmanukah. Everyone knows Christmas is where its' at. (Bet his parents are pleased with the thousands of dollars invested in his Jewish education)

Maybe he's right.

It's all one big holiday-gift giving blur.

MissM likes it when I go into school with our Menorahs and dreidles and explain Chanukah to her friends.


Like all the memories hanging on our Christmas tree, our Menorahs are very special too.

One belonged to my late fathers sister, who I adored. After she passed away, my cousin (her son) inherited it. When we left Sydney for Ireland, he gave me a plain wrapped parcel and said I was not to open it til we arrived in Dublin. Of course, I opened it the minute he left the apartment. There inside was my aunts Menorah. I'm crying even writing this.

The YEARS of memories she and my uncle would have shared with their 4 sons, my first cousins and the family are wrapt up in the 8 arms of the Menorah. We use it every year, pride of place in our home.

It's a constant symbol of family for us. MissM knows the story; G respects it.

We've shared Chanukah with family at picnics in a park, over a BBQ at someone's home, and on a beach at a cousins house. Seeing ALL the Menorahs in a row, lit at the same time was very special. I hope that everyone continues it, especially as there are little people around again.

When my brother, SIL and the kids visited us in the UK, it was very emotional to see the 3 kids lighting candles together. Aunty Anna would have been smiling on all of us.

The other was a gift from G's sister. She bought it for us on her first overseas trip in Murano, Italy. As we had moved to Ireland while she was overseas, she added us to her stop overs before flying back to Sydney. She knew we had one, and wanted this one to be MissM's

One day, MissM will have both the Menorah out at Chunukah, and light the candles, one at a time, in her own home, and remember all places she's lived, and all the friends that shared the evenings with us and smile.

It'll be next to the Christmas tree overflowing with ornaments from all the places she's lived, and all the friends that shared the evening with us and smile.


Gotta love 'em.

How do you celebrate at this time of year?
What family traditions do you hope your kids will continue?
What 'things' instantly bring memories flooding back?

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